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WWE 2K14

First Hands-On Reveals Polish And Speed For Wrestling's Finest

Yesterday, we shared surprising and exciting information about the inclusion of Ultimate Warrior in WWE 2K14. For the first time in the history of the Smackdown/Smackdown vs. RAW/WWE series, this electrifying personality will enter the ring. At a preview event in New York City, I also got to talk to the man himself about what this means for him and for the series.

Before I sat down with the legend, I was given access to multiplayer matches with a small selection of superstars. Included in the limited roster are The Rock, John Cena, Dolph Ziggler, Steve Austin, Shawn Michaels, Randy "Macho Man" Savage, and Ultimate Warrior. Even though WWE 2K14 looks similar to last year's release under THQ, matches feel smoother and faster.

Senior gameplay designer Bryan Williams told me that the over 200 animations have been rebuilt from the ground up for a more fluid feel. For instance, superstars now accelerate into a run rather than going from standing to full speed instantaneously. Strikes have been sped up to make them the fastest moves of the game, whereas some grapples could beat punches and kicks in previous years. This also makes them harder to counter.

Small "fidgets" have been added to idle animations to create a more lifelike impression, which goes along well with the less robotic movements. Short taunts, attire adjustments, and other minute gestures add color and texture to the on-screen action.

Reversals have also seen a major overhaul. Instead of possibly endless chains of counters that swap priority back and forth, successful reversals now immediately transition into moves. This makes for fewer disruptions in the action and more evenly paced bouts.

The tweaks and polishes are joined by advancements in features introduced last year. "Catch Finishers," which could only be activated while on the receiving end of an Irish whip or when an opponent leapt from the top rope, now allow players to catapult an opponent into the air offensively. I tested this out with Shawn Michaels, landing a Sweet Chin Music as Steve Austin dropped toward the mat. This makes running toward a foe who has a stored finisher especially risky. Ten of these have been added for 2K14.

Last year's "OMG! Moments" have been reinforced with seven new examples of brutality. For instance, outside the ring, players can be positioned near the post. Using a stored finisher will launch your character into the groggy superstar, sandwiching his head between a foot and the unpadded metal.

In triple threat matches (or other multi-superstar bouts), some superstars can use a single stored finisher to inflict huge damage on two opponents. We were shown John Cena performing a double Attitude Adjustment. Not only does this make economical use of the most powerful moves in the game, but it creates a critical window to pin one foe while the other is struggling to recover. Other examples include Ryback's double Shellshock and a Double Chokeslam for some big men.

Comebacks have been revamped, and instead of lengthy windups and chains of more mundane moves, they are now linked signature moves ending in a finisher requiring only two button presses mid-execution. These are some of the most visually stunning moments I saw, and I can't wait to see more of the roster in action.

I asked Williams how it was working with 2K Sports after so many years of publishing under THQ (he has been working on the series for a decade). "Honestly, my day to day hasn't changed at all," he told me. "But 2K is pushing us in all the right ways. They've spared no expense. They wanted to be in business with WWE and with us."

After chatting with the team and playing the gameplay slice, which had the trappings of a traditional demo (something the series hasn't seen in years), I was shown into a room to speak with Warrior. In our 15 minute conversation, we chatted about his appearance in the series and what it means for his beloved character to return to the fold.

"The video game thing is humbling to think that what I did back then, the character, still makes an impression on people," he said. "It's a rocking character, man. It's a comic book character. It's over the top and serious and cryptic and misunderstood and goofy and wild."

He hasn't played the game before, but he still recognizes the significance of his inclusion in WWE 2K14 and is grateful for the fan support. He continues to be a consummate performer, and his primary concern is the enjoyment of those that are engaged with the Warrior character. "I want people to have fun with the game," he told me. "When you sit down to play the game, you're just there to have fun and get caught up in something. It's ok to have a fantasy or day dream."

WWE 2K14 arrives on October 29, 2013, for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. The Ultimate Warrior character is available for those that pre-order.

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